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Covid-19 crisis officially over, but virus still present

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 8, 2023

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Friday, May 5, the end of the Covid-19 global health emergency.

It has been three long years since the world was filled with uncertainty as Covid-19 swept through each corner of the world, infecting over 765 million individuals and killing almost 7 million, globally.

The economy, employment, food and security, education, businesses, tourism, investments, and health, were all affected by the standstill of the pandemic. It was a terrifying time when no blueprint was given on how to manage such a disease, especially for country leaders and medical officials who served and saw the country in disaster.

Belize witnessed approximately 70,782 reported coronavirus cases, with 70,085 of those recovered and sadly, 688 reported deaths. Recently it was reported that there are currently 34 active cases.

According to statistics, in 2020, the economy suffered a GDP decline of 14%; there was a 72% fall in tourist arrivals, and the rate of unemployment shot up by 13.7%. Others affected included many small businesses, and there was also a reduction in the availability of food for many.

With so many people dying and economies crumbling, the International Health Regulations Emergency (IHRE) Committee declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) which enabled countries to enforce emergency measures as a way to best manage the pandemic.

But that was back in 2020, and with the significant decrease in cases and the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, things have slowly begun to return to what they were before the pandemic.

As a result, during the IHRE Committee’s 15th Covid-19 meeting, on May 4, the Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was advised to declare the end of the PHEIC, and he has done so.

Notably, the announcement also pointed to the fact that the virus in itself is very much still present and spreading; it just isn’t as unmanageable as it once was.

“While we’re not in the crisis mode, we can’t let our guard down. Epidemiologically, this virus will continue to cause waves. What we are hopeful of is that we have the tools in place to ensure that the future waves do not result in more severe disease, don’t result in waves of death, and we can do that with the tools we have at hand. We just need to make sure that we are tracking the virus, because it will continue to evolve,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, told CNN News.

Following the announcement, Belize’s Ministry of Health and Wellness issued a press release that same Friday declaring the end of the global health emergency in the country. They were also keen, however, to note that the virus has not completely disappeared and is still in circulation.

“Despite the declaration, the Ministry of Health & Wellness (MOHW) advises that the virus and its variants continue to circulate in Belize. The ministry reiterates that good hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing and avoiding crowded places when sick with respiratory symptoms, remain the best methods to stay free of COVID-19 and other infections,” stated the release.

“The worst thing any country can do now is to use this news as a reason to let down its guard, to dismantle the systems it has built, or to send the message to its people that COVID-19 is nothing to worry about,” the release also said.

Ghebreyesus, though convinced by the current statistics in making his decision, has made it known that if the numbers were to increase significantly, there would be no hesitation in declaring another global health emergency if necessary.